Fishes like salmon & hilsa can stall cancer in its tracks

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Hilsa Fish
Hilsa Fish

Both fishes are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, one of the compounds created by its metabolism can halt cancer

It is officially hilsa (Ilish) season in India and in Bangladesh. And whether hilsa is a taste you were born with (that probably would be the case if you grew up in West Bengal or Bangladesh) or an acquired one, indulge. Because it can save you from cancer.

Hilsa is known to be rich in omega 3 fatty acids and one of the compounds produced in the body during its metabolism has been found to have anti-cancer properties. Other food items containing omega 3 fatty acids are salmon, chia seeds, walnuts etc.

University of Illinois researchers report that the molecules (byproduct of omega 3 metabolism) called endocannabinoids, are made naturally by the body. They have similar properties to cannabinoids found in marijuana – but without the psychotropic effects.

In mice with tumors of osteosarcoma – a bone cancer that is notoriously painful and difficult to treat – endocannabinoids slowed the growth of tumors and blood vessels, inhibited the cancer cells from migrating and caused cancer cell death. The results were published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

“We have a built-in endocannabinoid system which is anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing. Now we see it is also anti-cancer, stopping the cells from proliferating or migrating,” said study leader Aditi Das, a professor of comparative biosciences and an affiliate of biochemistry at Illinois. “These molecules could address multiple problems: cancer, inflammation and pain.”

In 2017, the Illinois team identified a new group of omega-3 fatty-acid metabolites called endocannabinoid epoxides, or EDP-EAs. They found that these molecules had anti-inflammatory properties and targeted the same receptor in the body that cannabis does.

Since cannabis has been shown to have some anti-cancer properties, in the new study the researchers investigated whether EDP-EAs also affect cancer cells. They found that in mice with osteosarcoma tumors that metastasized to their lungs, there was an 80 percent increase in naturally occurring EDP-EAs in cancerous lung tissues over the lungs of healthy mice.

The researchers found that in higher concentrations, EDP-EAs did kill cancer cells, but not as effectively as other chemotherapeutic drugs on the market

“The dramatic increase indicated that these molecules were doing something to the cancer – but we didn’t know if it was harmful or good,” Das said. “We asked, are they trying to stop the cancer, or facilitating it? So we studied the individual properties and saw that they are working against the cancer in several ways.”

The researchers found that in higher concentrations, EDP-EAs did kill cancer cells, but not as effectively as other chemotherapeutic drugs on the market. However, the compounds also combated the osteosarcoma in other ways: They slowed tumor growth by inhibiting new blood vessels from forming to supply the tumor with nutrients, they prevented interactions between the cells, and most significantly, they appeared to stop cancerous cells from migrating.

“The major cause of death from cancer is driven by the spread of tumor cells, which requires migration of cells,” said study coauthor Timothy Fan, a professor of veterinary clinical medicine and veterinary oncology. “As such, therapies that have the potential to impede cell migration also could be useful for slowing down or inhibiting metastases.”